In simple words, electroplating is a process in which a metal is coated with a thin layer of another metal using an electrical current.
The metal to be coated is called the substrate (cathode), while the metal that is deposited on the substrate is called the plating metal (anode).
During the process, the plating metal is dissolved in an electrolyte solution, while an electric current passes through it causing the plating metal ions to migrate to the substrate and deposit on its surface.
The electroplating process has four main advantages, it:
- It improves electrical conductivity by enhancing the electrical properties of the object to be plated.
- It reduces friction, making surfaces smoothly slide and roll against each other.
- It increases wear resistance, preventing the object from material loss by some mechanical action.
- It protects against surface abrasions, avoiding the material to be scuffed, scratched, worn down, marred, or rubbed off.
The process of electroplating has a wide range of applications in industry and manufacturing, mainly to improve the appearance and durability of metal objects, protect them from corrosion, and enhance their electrical conductivity. It is also used for decorative purposes, such as adding a gold or silver finish to jewelry or other decorative items. Additionally, it can be used to create intricate patterns on metal surfaces, which can be useful in electronic and semiconductor manufacturing.
Check out below the five main areas in which electroplating is applied.
- Art and Decoration
Electroplating is a widely used technique in the art and decoration industry to enhance the visual appeal and durability of various art pieces and decorative objects, such as doorknobs, ornaments, faucets, and office furniture.
One of the most common uses of electroplating in art and decoration is the application of a layer of gold or silver onto sculptures, picture frames, jewelry, and other decorative objects. This process enhances the aesthetic appeal of the object and gives it a lustrous, reflective finish.
Electroplating is also used to create intricate designs and patterns on metal surfaces, such as etched or engraved designs by selectively masking areas of the surface during the electroplating process. Also, it can be used to restore or repair damaged metal objects by removing scratches or other imperfections on the surface and then applying a fresh layer of metal through the electroplating process.
Overall, electroplating provides a versatile and effective means of enhancing the aesthetic appeal and durability of various art pieces and decorative objects.
- Semiconductor materials and Thin-film solar cells
Electroplating is a critical process used in the production of semiconductors to deposit thin metallic layers onto the surface of semiconductor wafers. These metallic layers are used to create the interconnects and metal contacts that connect the various components of the semiconductor device.
In addition to creating the interconnects and metal contacts, electroplating can also be used to create other features on the surface of the semiconductor wafer, such as trenches or vias, which are used to connect the different layers of the semiconductor device.
Electroplating is a highly precise and repeatable process, allowing for the creation of complex patterns and structures with high accuracy and reliability. It plays a critical role in the production of modern semiconductor devices, enabling the creation of smaller, faster, and more efficient electronic components that are used in a wide range of applications, from consumer electronics to medical devices and beyond.
Due to increasing interest in the exploitation of renewable energy sources, semiconductors to be used in thin-film solar cells have been widely produced. They are made up of several layers of different materials, including a metal contact layer that is essential for the efficient collection and transmission of electrical current. Aspects like the thickness and uniformity of the deposited metal layer are critical factors that must be carefully controlled to ensure the efficient operation of the solar cell. Electroplating enables quality control measures, such as monitoring the pH and metal ion concentration of the electrolytic solution, to maintain optimal plating conditions and ensure consistent and high-quality results.
- Magnetic Microsystems (MMS) and Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS)
MMS and MEMS are critical components of many advanced technologies and have enabled the development of smaller, faster, and more efficient devices for a wide range of applications across various industries, including automotive, aerospace, medical, consumer electronics, and telecommunications, among others.
Electroplating is a widely used technique in MMS and MEMS production to deposit thin metallic layers on various surfaces, such as silicon wafers, to create miniature devices with magnetic properties. The technique works with ferromagnetic metals, such as nickel, cobalt, or iron, and plays a crucial role in the production of MMS and MEMS, allowing the creation of miniature devices with magnetic properties and metallic structures that are critical for their operation. The ability to create thin and precise metal layers with electroplating has enabled the development of a wide range of advanced microdevices and technologies.
- Electronics and Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs)
Electroplating is an essential process in the production of electronics and PCBs. It is used to deposit a layer of metal onto the surface of a substrate to create conductive traces and pads that connect the electronic components on the PCB.
The electroplating process is used to deposit a layer of copper onto the surface of a non-conductive substrate, typically fiberglass or plastic. The thickness of the deposited copper layer can be controlled precisely, allowing the creation of uniform and defect-free coatings. The copper layer is then etched to create the conductive traces and pads that connect the electronic components on the PCB.
Electroplating is also used in the production of other electronic components, such as connectors, switches, and capacitors. The process is used to deposit a layer of metal onto the surface of these components, providing enhanced conductivity and durability, and a reliable and cost-effective method for creating conductive traces and pads that connect electronic components.
- Sollar collectors
Solar collectors work by absorbing sunlight and converting it into heat, which is then transferred to a fluid to generate steam or hot water for heating or electricity generation. Electroplating is used in their production to deposit a layer of a metallic coating onto the surface of the collector to improve its energy efficiency. To improve the absorption of sunlight, the surface of the solar collector is coated with a layer of metallic coating, typically copper or aluminum due to their high thermal conductivity
Electroplating also enables the creation of more advanced coatings, such as selective coatings that absorb specific wavelengths of light and reflect others, further improving the efficiency of the solar collector.
Funded by the European Union under GA number 101058450. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.